Bird sets sight on Broncos return
JACK Bird has activated a 12-month option with the Broncos, insisting he will not quit the NRL as he attempts to fight his way back from the physical and emotional scars of a third knee reconstruction.
Speaking for the first time since snapping his ACL in March, Bird declared he is not a spent force. He opened up about his long battle with rheumatoid arthritis and how it has steeled him to repay Broncos fans after three seasons of injury hell at Red Hill.
The former NSW Origin ace also hit back at critics of his $900,000 pay packet at the Broncos, claiming he would play for free if it meant not suffering another serious injury for the rest of his career.
It has been 74 days since Bird's left knee buckled in a freak training mishap, sending shockwaves through the Broncos squad just two days before their Round 1 clash against the Cowboys.
Until that ill-fated moment, Bird had finally found contentment at the Broncos. He was revelling in a switch to fullback. He had stripped 5kg from his frame. His pre-season form was so slick he had unseated Jamayne Isaako in a battle for the No.1 jumper and was primed to take on his former Sharks teammate Valentine Holmes in Townsville.
Then, in a split second, his season collapsed. In three seasons, Bird has played just 17 games for the Broncos, his tenure at Red Hill decimated by shoulder and sternum injuries and two knee reconstructions in the space of 10 months.
The constant setbacks could easily have driven Bird into retirement. Instead, the luckless Bronco will defiantly soldier on.
"There is no chance I'm quitting, no chance," said Bird, who had his first knee reconstruction at just 16.
"This is my job and I'm only 25, so I'm keen to get back to my job and do it well.
"Mentally and physically, this injury has been one of the toughest things I have gone through.
"Personally, I believe I can get through it, but there's people out there who think I can't make it back."
Last week, Bird's manager, Chris Orr from PSM, advised the Broncos the strike utility back will remain in Brisbane next season. Like Anthony Milford, Bird had a one-year contractual option in his favour, meaning he was a free agent this season.
Bird is pragmatic enough to know NRL rivals are hardly going to be queuing up to poach him while he is in the casualty ward. The logical option was for Bird to trigger his 12-month extension, but he insists money is not his primary motivator.
"I've taken up the option to stay," he said.
"I'm realistic. I know I'm on good money here, but even if I was healthy and had options to go elsewhere, I would have chosen to stay at the Broncos."
"Because I feel I owe the Broncos club and my teammates," Bird continued.
"I want to play footy again. I'm not giving up. I'm here at the Broncos and I want to stay at the Broncos and I want to play well for the fans because that's what makes the game.
"The Broncos have stuck by me through this whole period. If I was in the NFL, how ruthless they are, there's no doubt the Broncos would have got rid of me by now. I understand it's a business but when I'm healthy again, I will give the Broncos everything I have."
"I feel more comfortable at the club now. It disappoints me that I haven't given the club what I thought I would. The three years have gone quick, but I love Brisbane as a city, it's a great club and the players and staff are top blokes.
"A lot of people think I am just here for the money, but money means nothing if you aren't happy.
"Honestly, I will tell you this now, I would sign somewhere for $100,000 to get a full season of footy. If someone told me I will never get injured again, I would play for free."
Bird has recently begun walking on his left knee and still can't believe how one split-second move at training could leave his career in tatters.
"I was feeling great that day and training was going well," Bird recalls of his build-up to the Cowboys game.
"Towards the end of training, I caught a ball and tried to step Tommy Dearden. As soon as I stepped, I felt my knee go and I was in agony.
"I didn't hear a pop. I just heard a crack and the pain was excruciating, it was way worse than when I did my knee last year.
"I knew straight away what I had done. I was hoping for the best but I got the worst."
The fact Bird has managed 83 NRL games, played State of Origin for NSW and won a premiership ring at Cronulla in 2016 is a tribute to his mental resolve. He believes he can fight back now because he has endured worse ... like the pain of his teenage years.
"I got sick at 16 years of age," he said.
"I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. I was told by doctors I would never play footy again. That happened just a few months after I first did my ACL.
"I was bedridden. I couldn't really do anything. My fingers. My wrists. My elbows were stuffed. I could barely turn my neck.
"The pain was horrendous. I remember my joints locking up. I couldn't straighten my elbows. I couldn't move my wrists. My fingers were all curled up. If I pushed into my joints, I would be in agony.
"I have it and it is what it is. I take an injection every fortnight in my stomach for my arthritis and I take two tablets, folic acid and methotrexate (which reduces inflammation) once a week.
"My arthritis is good now. I'm in remission at the moment but I never say never, it can always come back."
Bird was embroiled in a media storm earlier this month when he was captured in a Brisbane park with teammate Darius Boyd, breaching Queensland's social-distancing rules during the COVID-19 saga.
"I have gone through some dark times in the last few months," Bird said.
"Being injured as an athlete is not easy. I was alone a lot. I feel forgotten at times. I had some deep and dark thoughts and I didn't want to battle on my own, so I reached out to 'Darbs'.
"He has been through his own mental-health battles so I thought catching up with him would help my mental state and it definitely did that."
For all the doom and gloom, Bird has not lost his desire or swagger. After a brief taste, he is gunning for the No.1 jumper, desperate to end his Broncos curse in 2021.
"If you put my shoes on someone else, I don't think many people could have come back like I have," he said.
"The lightest I got to was 91kg this year and last year I was 96kg. I lost five kilos. I will look even better next year. I haven't lost my confidence. You don't lose confidence when you know what you can do.
"I have no doubt I can fight back. I just have to get my body right and I will ... 2021 is my season."